Mixing It Up: A Break in Routine Can be a Good Thing
How Caregivers Can Break Up The Routine To Rejuvenate
By Trish Hughes Kreis for Assisted Living Directory
Routine for caregivers can be both a blessing and the most mind-numbing, soul-crushing, attitude-breaking part of caregiving.
Not to be overdramatic or anything.
Routine can be critical to keeping our loved one healthy and caregivers manage to create routine out of chaos on a regular basis. Organizing medications at the same time each week in ensures our loved one does not run out. Giving medications to our loved one at specific times throughout the day not only reduces the amount of forgotten medications but keeps the med levels at a consistent level for optimum health. Keeping to a regular bedtime schedule can help the loved one (and the caregiver!) get as much sleep as they need (or as much as possible).
Skilled Nursing Facilities and Residential Care Facilities stick to a routine (mealtimes, bedtimes, medication times) so it makes sense for those caring for a loved one at home to stick to a routine as well.
Routines work. I care for my disabled brother who has uncontrolled epilepsy and I have found that a break in routine will sometimes even cause his seizures to spike.
Routines work but they can become absolutely maddening. A respite can help caregivers when they have reached a point of absolute frustration with the routines and the stress of caregiving. (Read here for ways to recognize when respite is needed and here for ways to take a respite.)
Respite isn’t the only way, though, to take a break from the routine without doing harm to the health and well-being of your loved one. Sometimes even the slightest change in routine can be good for both the caregiver and, oftentimes, their loved one.
My brother needs routine but sometimes doing something different helps both of us.
I am not advocating for skydiving with your loved one or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but there are a few things a caregiver can do to break up the routine without doing harm. Of course, each situation is different so use your best judgement when deciding just how to break that routine (even for a little bit).
- Sleep In. For caregivers, our sleep is driven by medication dispense times. Robert needs his first dose of meds at 5:30 a.m. Every day. This cannot change. What I can change, however, is what time he actually gets up in the morning. Robert needs a lot of sleep but through the week he gets up early to go to a Day Program. I let him sleep in on the weekends but still maintain his medication schedule. (Not everyone can wake up and then go back to sleep but I am fortunate that Robert has no problem with this.) This extra sleep gives him a break from the routine of Day Program and waking up early and gives me a break in the morning routine of getting him ready for the day early in the morning. I take the extra time that he is sleeping and do something for me – even if it means cleaning the house. There is a sense of a break for me when Robert is sleeping in and I am not on high alert for him all the time.
- Change of Scenery – Go Outside. Routine can keep us inside our house doing the same things, watching the same shows or doing the same loads of laundry. Sitting outside for a few minutes can be refreshing and a great way to break up the routine of daily caregiving. I don’t mean just the caregiver sits outside – take your loved one with you out on the back porch (or a front porch if you are lucky enough to have one) and talk about the flowers, the birds chirping or the dogs barking. Or just sit together quietly. Your loved one may not be able to have a conversation about being outside but the fresh air and change of scenery might make an impact.
- Change of Scenery – Inside Version. One of my favorite stories is of a devoted woman caring for her mom who suffered from dementia and was bedridden toward the end. This woman was caring for her mom in the midst of raising a family (I think they had pets too). She wanted her mom to enjoy an outside activity the kids were doing but there was no possible way the mom could go outside. This creative woman and her husband moved the hospital bed in front of a window so her mom could see what the kids were doing out back. Her mom may not have understood what was going on but she did enjoy it (the smile on her face gave that away) and the whole family had a special memory to keep from that day.
- Go for a Drive. This may seem like a lot of extra work (getting your loved one in the car, packing medications, water and maybe some food) but it will be worth it to break up the routine. There is no need to travel far – just become a tourist in your own area. Drive downtown to look at new construction (some people love to see buildings being built); drive just out of town to see the farmland and cows (some of us love cows); drive to a field of flowers and enjoy the beauty of it all. Robert has surprised me while we are driving – I learned he loves to count “diesel trucks.” I don’t know where that started or why he does it but it is something I didn’t always know about him.
Changing the routine does not have to take a lot of extra time or effort and only takes a little imagination and creativity. The break in routine will not only rejuvenate you, the caregiver, but also might give your loved one a smile as well.